Nightly News   |  September 26, 2011

Learning how to protect the planet

Budding environmentalists learn how to become tomorrow’s environmental leaders in a special nature conservancy program. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> time now for our "making a difference" report tonight. as promised, it's all about learning and education. while this learning isn't happening inside the walls of a school building. it may be the best classroom of all. our story tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent anne thompson .

>> reporter: far from the pristine beauty of nature are the graffiti scarred walls and concrete of the bronx. an unlikely place to find a budding environmentalist. do you think you could make the environment better?

>> i think i can. it starts with one person to motivate others. and i got my motivation through other people.

>> reporter: walk forward, watch your step.

>> there's plenty of motivation for her along the jersey store. replacing the trees cut down for development. standing up on a bad el board, even though she can't swim.

>> if you can do this, do you think you can do anything?

>> i already knew i could do anything before doing this.

>> reporter: amarlyn is one of 72 paid interns in the leaf program, designed to nurture tomorrow's leaders.

>> we're doing more than just getting young people outdoors. we're also really building life skills and science skills and a conservation identity at an early age.

>> reporter: the students come from environmental high schools . across 20 states, they work with scientists in a variety of projects. in this new jersey stream, 17-year-old amarlyn and her colleagues catch dragon flies.

>> it's blue on the top and green on the bottom.

>> beautiful.

>> reporter: for these interns, nature is the best classroom to learn about dragon flies, water quality and life. scared at first.

>> yeah, you gotta look.

>> reporter: but not for long.

>> it feels great. i feel like an expert.

>> reporter: leah bennett was one of the first interns, today she's a junior high school science teacher in northern virginia .

>> what do you hope these girls will take away?

>> i think they'll learn how to be more independent and take a challenge head on.

>> reporter: bringing skills and awareness developed here to their neighborhoods back home. so nature's beauty is more than just a summer memory. anne thompson , nbc news, the jersey shore .